Week 27: Faith in the midst of challenges

Readings for the week: Psalm 78, 2 Kings 21-25Esther 1-10,   2 Corinthians 8-13Psalm 79, Listen to these passages

Opening Prayer:

 Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of Scripture. It is easy to put aside or read without paying attention.  It is easy to make excuses not to read or listen to it and it is even easier to not put into practice that which it says about faith and action.  I get caught up in the stories of the world, the ways that everyone else says things have to be done. But their ways are not your ways, and I have no excuse (or at least no good excuses) for not learning about your ways. You offer a way of hope and a way of light.  Help me to remember what I’ve been reading over the last 6 months and help me to have understanding in the next six months so that I can live our your calling in my life. Be with those I meet and those in my community that together we can be a people who serve you in all our lives. Amen.

1. Psalm 78

2.1 Reading through 2 Kings 21-25

As we come to the end of the stories of Israel’s (along with Judah’s) kings, we end another stage of the story of God’s people. There was the patriarch stage, then the slave/exodus stage, then the judges stage, and with Saul the kings shaped the story. But that didn’t work out.

While kings provided the strong and clear leadership the people seemed to need (and want!) they didn’t always lead in ways that reflected God’s calling. They got distracted (like Solomon) or co-opted by other cultures. They were seduced by patterns of wisdom and ways of worship that seemed popular in the world. But all that worldly wisdom wasn’t real wisdom at all. It was a pattern of death and destruction that first led to oppressing of the people and then to the complete collapse, and losing the promised land altogether.

It’s easy to look back and judge the naughty kings–from our perspective it seems so clear. But like Paul says in Romans 2, who are we to judge when we do the same things?  We get caught up in political excuses and ways of spending our time, money, energy that reflect the world’s values more than God’s.  We live out lives of excess that in many ways goes far beyond what those kings could imagine.  We let ourselves be entertained by violence and social destruction, excusing it all away. It shapes us, even if we deny it.

The calling is to hold onto the ways of God, to be like Josiah, remembering the work and calling of God. Though, it’s interesting that even Josiah came to a rather unfortunate end, not necessarily what we’d expect from a good king. But there’s more to the story than we are told here about Josiah and Pharaoh Necho, with the details saved for another Old Testament book. We don’t leave the kings of Israel and Judah behind altogether.  Like with the Gospels, we’ll come back to these stories from different perspectives before too long.

2.2 Reading through Esther

Esther is a fun read. It even institutes a holiday (Purim), which brings melodrama to religious celebration.  It’s a book with heroes and villains and plot twists at ever point. It’s a great story to tell around a campfire or to initiate a feast.  If you’re reading this first, I encourage you to make some popcorn, get a mega-size soda, and your favorite box of candy to have on hand for reading this part.

It famously (as everyone likes to bring up) doesn’t mention God. The only book of the Bible to leave God out of the story.  But does it really leave God out? It’s in the Bible because God is present, even if not mentioned. Indeed, it’s a lot more like the challenges we face in life, where we try to be faithful while wondering where God is or whether God will save us. In the tension of devastation, we show whether we truly believe in God or whether we’ll get caught up in the disaster. We show whether we’re willing to reach out in faith and hope and trust in God’s guidance, even when things aren’t going to plan.

These moments of faith can become profound moments of grace, offering us reminders that God doesn’t need to announce himself with grand gestures to be present with us.

3. Reading Through 2 Corinthians 8-13

What does it mean to live out the calling of God? In these chapters, Paul talks about the calling of the community and his own calling as a leader. It’s different than what the world assumes.  In this second part of his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul is encouraging those in Corinth to not live according to the values of this world, to show they have a faith in God who provides. Faith expresses itself in action.  It’s not just another set of opinions. It is enacted by sharing of resources, by showing a connection of community in sharing with one another. That instinct we see in Acts 2 gets smothered by worldly ambition or defensive protection. We’re called to live out differently.

Paul also spends time talking about his own calling and his own authority. He’s not someone seeking ambition, but has been led down a rough road in God’s service.  We can easily get caught up in religious sounding language or showy piety. Religion is a great way for people to get authority, and ministry is one of the top careers that narcissists go into.  They might even be deceived about their own goals.

But no matter whether they are intentional or oblivious to their wrong motives, it has an effect on the community. Good people can do bad things when they are led by wrong spirits. People can be right about an issue but wrong in how they pursue it, leading to division and competition rather than peace and community.

What are Paul’s cues for community and calling in these passages? How can we be better about discerning these in our setting?

4. Psalm 79

5. Respond

If you’ve fallen behind in the readings or haven’t started yet, don’t worry.  Reading the Bible isn’t a limited time offer. Jump in this week, and catch up with what you’ve missed in future years.

Also, I highly encourage you to share your thoughts with others in your family, or immediate community. Talk about this stuff! 

And, since I sometimes feel lonely, share your thoughts in the comment section.

Talking about your thoughts and questions is a very important part of the reading goal. Writing out our thoughts can help us remember what we read and keep our minds on the passage. It also is very helpful to share as we learn from each other.

Even our questions or confusion can bring us together, as we highlight what others may have missed or address what a lot of us are also wondering.   Don’t feel like you have to say or write a lot, or feel pressure to be profound. Respond with honesty and openness.

Just jump right in where you’re at, knowing that Christ invites you to respond without pressure or anxiety. It’s a journey not a performance.